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Ethiopian Civil Procedure Law- Adjudication without Trial

Overview

Under this Section, we will discuss the disposition of cases after issues have been formed and before building a full-scale trial. One of the purposes in requiring clear and precise pleading and holding a first hearing is, whenever possible, to decide the case, in whole or in part, without holding a trial. 

As you can remember from the previous discussions, we have already discussed instances where the court disposes of a case before requiring a full-scale trial or without sometimes even requiring the opposite party to respond.  Some of those are where the court examines the legal sufficiency of the statement of claim and the statement of defense. 

Where the statement of claim fails to state a cause of action, the court will dismiss the suit. Secondly, we have seen that at the first hearing, the court may give judgment, in whole or in part, on the basis of the admissions that the parties have made in their pleadings or on the oral examination.

The Civil Procedure Code provides three other devices by which a case may be adjudicated in whole or in part, without a full-scale trial and these will be discussed as follows.

Agreement on Issue

In the above discussion, we have seen how a court will frame an issue. However, some times, parties by themselves may agree as to the question of fact or law to be decided between them. In such a case the civil procedure code Art. 252. says:

Art. 252: – Questions of fact or law may be stated in form of issues

Where the parties agree as to the question of fact or of law to be decided between them, they may state the same in the form of an issue, and enter into an agreement in writing that, upon the finding of the court in the affirmative or the negative of such issue:

  • a sum of money specified in the agreement or to be ascertained by the court, or in such manner as the court may direct, shall be paid by one of the parties to the other of them, or that one of them be declared entitled to some right or subject to some liability specified in the agreement: or
  • some property specified in the agreement and in dispute in the suit shall be delivered by one of the parties to the other of them, or as that other may direct; or
  • one or more of the parties shall do or abstain from doing some particular act specified in the agreement and relating to the matter in dispute.

You have to note here that agreement on an issue plays a great role in facilitating the trial proceeding of the suit. Because, in doing that, parties will have the opportunity to compromise on some issues of the litigation and point out those issues which needs the decision of the court. Normally, Issue can be legal or factual. Some times, the issues framed by the parties could only be issue of law. If it is a legal issue, there will be no trial. In such cases, the court may render judgment at the pre trial stage.

Parties Not at Issue

The primary purpose of the pleadings and the first hearing or proceedings prior to trial is to develop the issues for trial. As a result of such proceedings, there do not appear to be any such issues; the court may pronounce judgment at the first hearing. This rule is provided under Art. 254 of the Civil Procedure Code.

As we have said earlier, issues arise when a material proposition forwarded by one party is denied by the other in the suit. So, if plaintiff has forwarded his propositions, which are found to be legally sufficient, the defendant is required to admit or specifically deny the allegations of the plaintiff. If the defendant admits the allegations or the material propositions of the plaintiff, there is no issue to be disposed by the court. In other words, where a party admits the material proposition of the other, the parties are not at issue and the court will, at once, pronounce judgment in favor of plaintiff.

Finally, we would like to remind you that the parties may not be at issue on some points, but may be at issue on others. In such cases, the court has to conduct a trial to decide on matters where the parties are at issue. 

Deposition of issues at the First Hearing 

Unlike what we have seen above, some times parties may be at issue but their issue could be adjudicated with out the need for full-scale trial. i.e., it may be easy to dispose the issue at the first hearing. This happens where the court is satisfied that the issues framed for trial can be determined with out argument or evidence other than that which the parties can at once produce, and that no injustice would result from proceeding in this manner; the court is authorized under Art. 255 to determine the issues at the first hearing, and pronounce judgment accordingly. 

Question 6: Differentiate the concepts entertained under Articles 254 & 255.

The other opportunity to dispose issue at first hearing is where the issue or issues framed are issues of law. In this case, the court may adjourn the hearing to enable the parties to martial their legal arguments, but it should not set a trial. This is because no evidence will be introduced. The same will be true on issues, which can be resolved entirely based on the documentary evidences, which are already delivered to the court. However the court should be careful to decide on whether the issue is solely dependent on the documentary evidences which are submitted to the court at the first hearing. If there is a need for further evidences, which includes witnesses, the case will necessarily be adjourned to trial.  In general, in determining whether the issue may be resolved at the first hearing, the crucial question is whether all the evidence that both parties can produce on that issue is available at that time. The court should ask the parties whether they have further evidence of other witnesses to be produced at the trial and decide accordingly. 

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